Waste Pickers Frame Common Agenda, Fight for Right to Socio-legal Recognition

Davao City. National initiatives toward continuing clamor for waste pickers to gain social and legal recognition as respectable workers, as well as their expansion and integration into the solid waste management system, have sustained heat as more than 40 people from various waste picker groups, NGOs, and government agencies from Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, General Santos City, and Butuan City attended an awareness-raising workshop with the purpose of advancing waste pickers’ socio-legal rights.

The EcoWaste Coalition, in cooperation with local-based groups Kinaiyahan Foundation, Inc.; Interface Development Interventions, Inc. (IDIS); Philippine Island Kids International Foundation, Inc.; Mamamayan Ayaw Sa Aerial Spray (MAAS); Soroptimist International of Davao City; and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) – Davao City, has organized a two-day regional training workshop for waste pickers at the UCCP Shalom Center in Davao City.

The two-day activity, which concludes today, has gotten the support of Davao City Councilors Hon. Joselle D. Villafuerte, Chairperson of the City Council Committee on Health, and Hon. Marissa Salvador-Abella, Vice-Chairperson of the City Council Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

According to the Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), waste pickers are either “individuals working and rummaging through garbage on dumps, informal private collectors selling recyclables, or organized sorters tied with unions, cooperatives and associations.”

“The workshop intends to establish a mutual understanding regarding the current solid waste management (SWM) systems, analyze the present and emerging threats of such systems that neglect recyclers, and examine solutions and legal provisions that will pave the way for the inclusion of waste pickers into the prevailing SWM models,” said Betty Cabazares, Executive Director of Kinaiyahan Foundation.

In 2010, the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) approved the National Framework Plan for the Informal Sector in Solid Waste Management through NSWMC Resolution No. 47 to formalize the incorporation of the informal waste sector into the SWM system by “providing them with a favorable policy environment, skills development and access to a secured livelihood, employment and social services.”

Cabazares clarified that the NSWMC Framework Plan has been successfully enforced in some areas, but its implementation in various portions of the country needs to be strictly carried out, “particularly in localities where LGUs are subcontracting waste collection and segregation to private companies, and in so doing, imperils the livelihood of waste pickers whose daily work entails collection, segregation and selling of recyclable throw-outs.”

The government pushes for the adoption of “green technologies” such as waste-to-energy plants, as a primary solution to the country’s worsening garbage problems. This move tends to neglect the more realistic green technology that most people working in the informal recycling sector does for their living – inclusive recycling with social, legal and labor rights recognition.

“Amidst incessantly growing joblessness, the government should uphold pro-poor projects and legislations that will improve occupational health and safety of waste pickers, secure their employment and encourage more unemployed Filipinos to enter the recycling industry,” said Thomas Kellenberger, Founding President of the Philippine Island Kids International Foundation, Inc.

Kellenberger, a former Swiss policeman who abandoned his job years ago three years ago and moved to Cagayan de Oro City to work full-time for his foundation and help children rummaging in garbage dumps and their families out of poverty.

“Since the first time I visited the country in 2007, waste pickers in the Philippines remain undignified as they struggle for the government’s attention with respect to their social and occupational rights. They often live in dire conditions, have very low incomes and were considered of low social status,” observed Kellenberger.

There is no doubt that people in the informal waste sector toil under an apathetic state policy and governing environment. Despite their pragmatic fiscal, societal and ecological impact to the communities they live in, the government has yet to institutionalize marginalized-inclusive policies and regulations that will defend waste pickers’ rights and guarantee occupational stability and social protection.

In order to advance their rights, the repeatedly cold-shouldered waste pickers need to have a voice that will represent them in local and national policy, regulatory and collective bargaining committees.

For his part, Rey Palacio, Informal Waste Sector (IWS) Project Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition, says that one of the workshop’s objectives is to “reinforce local waste pickers’ organizations to support their individual and sectoral concerns and advance the improvement of their working conditions, which yield reliable incomes and continuous decent employment.”

“The consultative workshop allowed partakers to tell their stories of progress and improvement, as well as challenges being chanced upon as they make a living from waste. Some of these challenges include secure access to discards; exposure to health and safety risks and hazards due to presence of toxic, hazardous and infectious wastes in the disposal facilities; and inadequate government support. To take on these challenges, the participants need to have stronger organizations that will pro-actively fight for their social inclusion and improved economic conditions,” Palacio added.

On July 24 and 25, a similar activity was held in University of Cebu – Banilad, where more than 50 individuals from several local community groups and NGOs from Cebu City, Mandaue City and Bacolod City took part in an awareness-raising training and consultation workshop.




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